Saturday, September 6, 2014

Little green bigfoot

Trust me, those are monk parakeets.
I had a surprising wildlife encounter on my office grounds yesterday. My office is located on an old army base, so we have a lot of open space historically used for… something military, with a small overlay of urban ecology. Much of the wide lawn is actually native plants. It is mowed within an inch of its life, but some fine specimens can still be found. The most interesting animal inhabitants I've seen are the roving flocks of green parrots.

Map of monk parakeet distribution, from Audubon site [2]
Called 'monk parakeets' (Myiopsitta monarchus), these birds have been introduced across the United States and Europe. The original colonists were escapees and 'intentional releases' by pet owners. Notable flocks occur in New York, Barcelona, and Chicago, among other places. Also: DFW. They are native to Argentina.

In their native range, monk parakeets prefer to nest in a tall tree surrounded by other tall trees [1]. They are the only nest-building parrot, and they are the only member of their genus. Their colonies build dense apartment complexes of twigs. Each couple has its own separate entrance and chamber, but they are attached to the larger structure.

Outside their land of origin, these are urban birds. In one study [1], 75% of nests were on electric power structures. They preferred to build nests on a high utility structures surrounded by high trees. Reed et al. hypothesized they chose the sites they did for protection from predators and abundance of twigs for nesting materials.

Also a monk parakeet. Really.
I doubt I would have believed my eyes when I spied the noisy flock of parrots chattering in a pecan grove if a colleague hadn't clued me into their periodic presence on grounds. I did my best to sneak up on them. However, the problem with colonial birds is they have a lot of watchmen.

I couldn't get very close, and I only had my iPhone camera, so my pictures are super crappy. They are so grainy and taken at such a distance, it looks like I was trying to document an elusive green bigfoot. Ah well. Better luck next time.

Lots of monk parakeets.


1. Reed, J. E., McCleery, R. A., Silvy, N. J., Smeins, F. E., & Brightsmith, D. J. (2014). Monk parakeet nest-site selection of electric utility structures in Texas.Landscape and Urban Planning129, 65-72.



  1. You've totally floored me this time. I live in the Chicago suburbs and never heard about monk parakeets before. In this climate? I'm definitely going to be digging up more info on this subject. Thanks.

    1. I was googling around, and I came across this site which may be of interest:

      The "Chicago Parakeet Project" includes a map of known colonial nesting sites. Happy hunting!